“LAST FLAG FLYING”
Blu-ray and DVD, 2017, rated R, language including sexual references; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: The feature “An Unexpected Journey: Making ‘Last Flag Flying’”
NOT TO DISCOUNT, “School of Rock,” but Richard Linklater’s best movies – “Dazed and Confused,” the “Before” trilogy and the epic “Boyhood” (his very best) – are mediations on life. Lengthy, intimate scenes in which characters just converse allow audiences time to get to know and identify with them.
“Last Flag Flying” is like those films, but it differs in a significant way. Rather than youthful characters facing an uncertain future, as one reviewer noted, the three men here are trying to come to terms with an uncertain past. Linklater, now 57, has called it his “middle-aged” movie.
Three decades after they served in Vietnam, Larry (Steve Carell) reconnects with Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard (Laurence Fishburne). His son has been killed in the second Iraq War, and for reasons that you’ll have to learn for yourself, he decides not to bury him in Arlington but instead bring him home to New Hampshire. Larry, who recently lost his wife, too, asks Sal and Richard to accompany him.
For all of its solemnity, “Last Flag” is a blackly funny road trip, and a sequel of sorts to “The Last Detail,” the memorable 1973 drama/comedy directed by Hal Ashby (“Being There”), written by Robert Towne (“Chinatown”) and starring Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid and Otis Young. Both were based on novels by Darryl Ponicsan, who co-wrote “Last Flag” with Linklater.
But no one, as Linklater told a U.K. newspaper, could have imagined that his movie would be a comment on recent headlines. When it arrived in theaters last fall, the Windbag in Chief was in full rant about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. “Last Flag Flying” raises questions about patriotism, too, but they’re reflective, and there’s no spittle.
Like he did with “Boyhood,” cinematographer Shane F. Kelly makes excellent use of natural lighting, creating a funereal palette that fits the movie’s tone and transfers cleanly to Blu-ray. While details sometimes get lost in the shadows, colors are solid, and when Sal and Richard put on their Marine Dress Blues, they pop. Because this is a war film without the war, the 5.1 DTS-HD audio track won’t test your system. But it does balance clear dialogue and ambient effects.
Extras, though, are no great shakes. “An Unexpected Journey: Making ‘Last Flag Flying’” includes some decent-enough interviews. Outtakes, a few deleted scenes and a short feature on the moving “Veterans Day” sequence round it out. A Linklater commentary or a feature about the conflicts veterans often face would have provided more depth.
That’s not a complaint. Besides, if “Last Flag Flying” came with a second disc of extras, they’d take a back seat to the superb performances of Carell, Cranston and Fishburne. Their connection is the real deal – just like those in all of Linklater’s best movies.
- Craig Shapiro